Peterborough Planning Board approves 96-unit Catholic Charities housing project

The plan brought forward by Catholic Charities to construct a 96-unit development in Peterborough. 

The plan brought forward by Catholic Charities to construct a 96-unit development in Peterborough.  —STAFF PHOTO BY AIDAN BEAROR

The crowd spills out into the hallway for the Planning Board hearing on Catholic Charities' project.

The crowd spills out into the hallway for the Planning Board hearing on Catholic Charities' project. —STAFF PHOTO BY AIDAN BEAROR

BY AIDAN BEAROR

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

Published: 08-18-2023 2:12 PM

The Peterborough Planning Board approved a 96-unit Catholic Charities mixed-income housing development with one dissenting vote Monday after a hearing in which the crowd spilled out into the hallway of the town offices.

Catholic Charities sought approval to build a 64-unit apartment building, along with retrofitting two existing buildings at 10 and 12 Vose Farm Road to provide 32 units and restoring a section of wetlands buffer by removing pavement and additional buffer impacts for the creation of emergency access, retaining wall, drainage pond and associated grading.

George Chadwick of Bedford Design Consultants and Jeff Lefkovich, executive director of real estate services for Catholic Charities New Hampshire, presented the case for the development. The plan was before the board in July but was pushed to August to give the Conservation Commission time to review it and serve in an advisory role to the Planning Board.

The Conservation Commission had raised concerns about parking lot pavement infringing on the wetland buffer area, which Chadwick reduced by 50% and intended to replant wildflowers to mitigate the environmental impact. The property will also have a bioretention basin that will treat stormwater before redirecting it away from the wetland buffer. The parcel and both abutting properties had allowed untreated stormwater to flow directly into the wetland buffer, something Chadwick got permission from the abutters to fix.

Chadwick also presented a lighting plan that developed in conjunction with Apex Lighting Design. According to Chadwick, the exterior lighting will be LED, and will shine solely downward to reduce nighttime sky glow.

Francie Von Mertens spoke for the Conservation Commission, claiming their advice had “fallen on deaf ears” and that the project was not making an effort to meet their suggestions. Soon after, Select Board representative Bill Taylor rebutted, saying Chadwick had made “plenty of effort” and that the project was moving “down a rabbit hole we often go down” of wanting housing but not approving the projects. At one point, Taylor told Planning Board members, “If you’re going to vote no, just say that.” His sentiment was echoed by Planning Board member Sarah Steinberg Heller.

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Lefkovich said $2 million of phase one of the development was devoted to stormwater mitigation, and claimed that he has been working to the best of his ability to meet in the middle, and that at a certain point he will need to decide if the project was financially feasible after a number of delays.

Heller said Peterborough has never had this opportunity before and to vote no on the project would discourage future developments seeking to alleviate the housing shortage in town. She called for approval that night despite being nervous due to the “unprecedented” nature of the project, which drew applause from the audience.

After discussion between Conservation Committee representatives, the Planning Board, Lefkovich and Chadwick, the parties agreed on conditions. The development must be reviewed by a local third party for stormwater compliance, landscaping plans must be submitted, no further encroachment into the wetland is permitted and if any view is cleared to the Contoocook River, native vegetation must be replanted. A lighting plan must be reviewed by the town planner, and the contractor must work with the DPW director and the director of planning to provide a performance guarantee.

Several community members spoke to their own experience with the housing crisis in Peterborough. Representatives from American Steel and New Hampshire Ball Bearings said that it was cheaper to bus in their workers from other states than to find them housing in town.

After two hours and twenty minutes, the project was approved with the stipulations laid out by the Conservation Commission. Blair Weiss was absent, and alternate Andrew Dunbar voted in her place. Stephanie Hurley cast the lone negative vote.